by Nicole Seckman Jilek

While many employers find that employee handbooks are essential for communicating with employees and protecting the rights of both the employer and employees, others find handbooks can be constraining and inflexible. Whether to establish an employee handbook and then to implement the policies and procedures contained in it, will depend on the employer and its needs. I do not know the identity of or how to give credit to the author who said, “Spoken words fly away, written words remain.” Although spoken in a different context, those words pretty much sum up the pros and cons of establishing an employee handbook.  

Advantages to Employer:
  • Communications. An excellent tool to establish and communicate employer policies and procedures to employees, especially for common issues like paid time off.  
  • Set expectations. A way to formally govern employees’ activities and consequences for violation of policies.  Common policies include the use of employers’ resources, time off, confidentiality, and use of employers’ proprietary information.  Setting expectations help to minimize surprises for both employers and employees.
  • Control behavior. Help control the use of company time and resources.  Many employers enjoy policies that limit and control how employees may use company computers and the internet, which may prohibit or limit the use of personal use of computers or the internet.  Employers may be able to maximize employee productivity by implementing certain policies to control behavior.
  • Confidentiality. Communicate how confidential information of the employer or its customers should be protected and how it may be used. 
  • Minimize legal risks. Minimize risks for employers by providing consistent standards, a complaint process, and consistent treatment of employees and issues.
Disadvantages to Employer:
  • Lack of flexibility. It is likely more difficult to change policies once a policy is in place.  A verbal “announcement” is likely not enough to change certain policies.  Communication of changes may be an issue for some organizations.
  • Unforeseen/unintended consequences.  Most of the time, policies help an employer control risk and manage expectations.  However, an employer may be exposed to different duties and liabilities if obligations (that otherwise wouldn’t be present) are created by a handbook; and an employer will have a duty to uniformly enforce such policies.
  • Cost to create. The cost, in the form of time, energy, and money, to create a quality employee handbook. The employer’s decision-maker will need to consider the huge scope of subject matter and policies, the need for them in the employer’s operations, determine which policies should be included in the handbook, and likely engage an attorney familiar with employment law to help draft it.  
  • Maintenance.  Policies need to be regularly reviewed and updated for compliance with changes in law and trends.  
  • Utilization.  A handbook is only valuable to an employer and its employees if it is discussed and used with employees.

Due to the complexities of federal and state employment laws and their effect on employers’ policies and handbooks, it is important to talk with an experienced employment law attorney when contemplating implementing a handbook or revising an existing handbook.